- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Welcome to Washington traffic, Ezekiel Elliott.

The Cowboys running back, who has made a career out of breaking through or dashing around congestion at the line of scrimmage, found himself in park all day Sunday at FedEx Field, as a swarm of Redskins defenders clogged the roads, inside and out.

By the end of the Redskins’ 20-17 win Sunday, Elliott had just 33 yards on 15 carries.

Like Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey the week before, Elliott discovered how tough it is to run against the Redskins this season.

After seven weeks, the Redskins have the third-best run defense in the NFL — holding teams to just 87.3 yards per game on the ground. That’s a vast improvement from a year ago, when Washington ranked dead last, giving up 134.1 rushing yards per game.

With another high-profile back in the New York Giants’ Saquon Barkley up next on Sunday, Washington has yet to allow a 100-yard rusher.

It didn’t happen by accident, either.

The Redskins have poured significant resources, through the draft and in free agency, into fixing their defense. Now, with a revamped defensive line, the strategy is paying off.

Since coach Jay Gruden was hired in 2014, the Redskins have drafted exactly 21 defensive players to 21 offensive players. But 11 of those 21 defenders have come within the last two drafts — helping the Redskins build their current core.

In back-to-back years, the Redskins used a first-round pick on a defensive lineman — taking Alabama teammates Jonathan Allen in 2017 and Daron Payne a year later.

And the Redskins made a decision this offseason to re-sign starting linebackers Mason Foster and Zach Brown, both of whom have been solid against the run.

By keeping the same group mostly together, the Redskins are benefitting from the familiarity.

“It’s helped out a lot,” said Allen, who was taken with the 17th overall pick. “The more I’m playing with Mase, the more they know how I play, where I’m going to fit at, how to fit off me. Just playing with the same linebackers for eight weeks through the year, it’s helped out a lot.”

Allen said it was hard for the Redskins to find the right chemistry last season after the group had so many injuries. Foster and Brown, for instance, did not make it through the season — and Washington had to rely on backups.

Even Allen was limited to five games with a season-ending foot injury.

But now, the Redskins are mostly healthy on defense. Starting cornerback Quinton Dunbar (shin) is the lone exception, but he has only missed one game. Dunbar is considered week to week moving forward.

Gruden said the difference against the run has been a “total team effort.” Last week, he said Payne, a 6-foot-2, 320-pound defensive lineman, had been everything as advertised.

“it starts up front in the trenches,” Gruden said. “Those big guys are doing a great job, the front four or five depending on the personnel grouping, are doing excellent. … Eliminating the running backs like we have the last couple weeks have been a great, outstanding job by everybody.”

Veteran Pernell McPhee, meanwhile, has spent his past seven seasons in the NFL playing on pretty stout defenses with the Baltimore Ravens and Chicago Bears.

Those teams, he said, carried an aggressiveness and attitude.

“They have no fear for nobody,” McPhee said.

He added the Redskins have the same type of confidence.

“Everything is just clicking right now, man,” McPhee said.

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